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Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears Death (edition 2010)

by Nnedi Okorafor

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5323918,946 (3.79)102
Title:Who Fears Death
Authors:Nnedi Okorafor
Info:Daw Books (2010), Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

Work details

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

  1. 20
    Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson (PhoenixFalls)
  2. 31
    The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin (electronicmemory)
    electronicmemory: Who Fears Death is post-apocalyptic futuristic fantasy and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms draws from classical sword and sorcery, but both are excellent novels about heroines who have found themselves beset and gifted (or possibly cursed) by powers beyond reckoning, while caught up in a political and supernatural power struggle that spans generations and eventually time itself.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Review contains spoilers.

Overall, I enjoyed Who Fears Death, and was fascinated to read a modern fantasy novel not rooted in Judeo-Christian mythology. However, I struggled with some of the lack of consequences and resolutions throughout the novel. Especially in one off subplots (ex: when they hide in the cave during the thunderstorm), unsettling and horrifying things are introduced but no explanation is ever offered. These minor incidents don't seem to impact the characters going forward. Only landmark events throughout the plot seem to have a lasting effect on Onye.

I also struggled a lot with the way that some of the social issues were dealt with. The female genital mutilation was so horrific for the characters initially, but had a relatively easy fix and didn't go on to impact the characters after they'd been healed. Characters who were sexist or racist were generally sexist or racist at the end of the book, or they were cured by magic. There wasn't much nuanced middle ground there.

Despite some of these problems, I was invested in the story and cared about what happened to Onye. I would recommend this as an interesting read, even if things don't get tied up as neatly as they could have been. However, much of the content of this book is not for the faint of heart, and I would probably not recommend this to children under 15. ( )
  junerain | Feb 9, 2015 |
I found this book depressing and relentlessly bleak. I kept going after a few incidents of intricately-detailed physical and emotional violence, but the protagonist's circumstances only got worse and worse. I did not like any of the characters, and the dialogue felt boring and inauthentic to me.

Due to the nature of its content, I could not bring myself to finish this book. ( )
  wishanem | Jan 27, 2015 |
I loved many things about this book, fantastic post-apocalyptic worldbuilding, fascinating characters, and a captivating storyline, full of complexity. The writing is clean, giving Onyesonwu a clear voice as she narrates her life story.

Onyesonwu is a wonderfully interesting character, full of both anger and compassion, able to strike out and provide healing, desiring revenge and yet not wanting to engage in the violence she sees around her. Likewise, her companions and teachers (there are many) are complicated too, with a variety of motivations and assumptions based on traditions or superstitions.

The story includes descriptions of rape, genocide, female circumcision, stoning, child soldiers, and other real-world violence that is horrifying (and sometimes hard to read), and yet handled with honesty, precision, and care. In the face of all this horror, the story could have easily turned into a downer, but hope, love, and friendship are weaved into the story as well. The story is powerful, deeply resonant, and one to think about long after having put it down. An amazing work of art.

I will definitely be reading more by Nnedi Okorafor. ( )
1 vote andreablythe | Dec 12, 2014 |
Who fears death is an (apparently) post-apocalyptic African fantasy novel. I say apparently, because I wouldn't have known if the blurb hadn't said it was post-apocalyptic. Only at the very end did I see some evidence that there had been something like an apocalypse, and even then I wasn't sure if it really was one. It's quite sad really, because the book had enough aspects that could be, well, should be associated with an apocalypse. It had rape, female genital mutilation and genocide. Unfortunately, those aspects have been every-day life relatively recently in places in Africa, without an apocalypse.

Well, this makes it sound like this must have been a depressing book to read. Fortunately it wasn't. I really enjoyed the African setting and the lack of white characters (although I'm still not quite sure what color the Nuru are). I also liked that the main character is female, that she makes friends, some of which are female too, and some of which stay with her and remain loyal to her to an astonishing degree. Onyesonwu does meet with a great deal of misogyny, but she is strong enough of will that she doesn't let it stop her, and she even changes a few people's minds. Still, I wasn't too fond of the autocratic attitude of some of her teachers, even when they knew she was some kind of savior to their people. Overall, I did like the book, but it also left me feeling a bit dissatisfied. Especially towards the end, I had the feeling that Onyesonwu should have grown more. Yes, she grows in power, but I would have liked to see her direct her power more, I would have liked to see that she hadn't only learned HOW to use her power, but also WHEN and in what way. Right after she has her greatest increase in power, she rushes off to a silly contest that turns out to be dangerous in the extreme and causes a lot of trouble. She seems to be driven by impulse. If it had been a version of intuition, I would have been ok with it, but her actions seem more childlike than subconsciously informed. I have no objection to her being emotional; the assertion of her male teachers that emotions are dangerous is ridiculous. If she would have used her emotions as a strength, I would have loved it. Instead she comes across as immature, and her boyfriend needs to pull her out of trouble too often.

Still, during the first three quarters or so, I was really engaged and was continuously looking forward to continuing my reading. After that, I started to feel a little annoyed. Fortunately the story climaxed soon after, and the annoyance got drowned in all the excitement. If it hadn't been for my lingering dissatisfaction, I probably would have gone for 4 stars. As it is, I can't give it more than 3. ( )
  zjakkelien | Oct 29, 2014 |
Ever since finishing it, I've been wondering about the theme of this book, and for me, it came down to religion. This was mostly subtext... but the fact that whether or not the Great Book was re-written was so relevant- albeit not usually a conscious concern- leads me to this conclusion- with ramifications for many of our current world's "Great Books".

But- while the ideas woven into this novel are chewy and ones I will be thinking on for a long time- mostly when reading it's a powerful and beautifully written book about a reality that is sometimes lovely, and sometimes extremely harsh.

The societies and magical systems do not have anything in common with the usual fantasy tropes- that drew me in. The cultures were well-thought-out, too, in both their support and their harshness.

The characters- well, they worked really well in the story, but to me they did npt seem fully rounded. Perhaps this was inevitable given the first-person narrative, where our narrator was preoccupied with things other than drawing her companions as fully-formed characters- especially given her youth. However, while some of the tertiary characters felt very alive to me, the secondary ones were less successful.

Nonetheless- this is a fascinating, though sometimes brutal- fantasy novel that is not at all like the usual ones. I highly recommend it for the adventurous fantasy reader. ( )
  cissa | Sep 18, 2014 |
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"Dear friends, are you afraid of death?" - Patrice Lumumba, first and only elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo
To my amazing father, Dr. Godwin Sunday Daniel Okoroafor, M.D., F.A.C.S. (1940-2004).
First words
My life fell apart when I was sixteen.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Well-known for young adult novels (The Shadow Speaks; Zahrah the Windseeker), Okorafor sets this emotionally fraught tale in postapocalyptic Saharan Africa. The young sorceress Onyesonwu—whose name means Who fears death?—was born Ewu, bearing a mixture of her mother's features and those of the man who raped her mother and left her for dead in the desert. As Onyesonwu grows into her powers, it becomes clear that her fate is mingled with the fate of her people, the oppressed Okeke, and that to achieve her destiny, she must die. Okorafor examines a host of evils in her chillingly realistic tale—gender and racial inequality share top billing, along with female genital mutilation and complacency in the face of destructive tradition—and winds these disparate concepts together into a fantastical, magical blend of grand storytelling.
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Born into post-apocalyptic Africa to a mother who was raped after the slaughter of her entire tribe, Onyesonwu is tutored by a shaman and discovers that her magical destiny is to end the genocide of her people.

(summary from another edition)

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